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With continuously rising costs for everyday essentials, hardworking Arkansans are stretched thin. When incomes run out, sometimes days or weeks before the next paycheck, it creates some difficult choices. To make matters worse, grocery prices have climbed nearly 21 percent since the beginning of 2021 resulting in an urgent role for nutrition assistance in communities across our state.
The Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance estimates one out of every three Natural State children is experiencing food insecurity. This means kids aren’t getting enough to eat and they are uncertain of where their next meal will come from.
We know healthy, nutritious food helps students learn and contributes to their growth and development. A 2022 University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences study found breakfast in the classroom also helps improve behavior.
Leaders at all levels of government, in addition to nonprofits, are taking steps to fight hunger and address food insecurity in our state to help students thrive.
The Arkansas State Legislature approved a bill the governor signed into law last year to cover the cost of reduced-priced school meals for students from low-income families. This policy change is helping families who depend on these programs to feed their children.
As a former local school board member, I saw firsthand how substantial the nexus between nutrition and learning is, and how much more successful students were when they had proper nourishment.
And while school pauses for the summer, childhood development, and the struggle many families have putting food on the table, does not.
That is why closing the hunger gap when school is out has long been a goal of mine.
With input from Arkansas nutrition advocates, my colleagues and I developed legislation to modernize federal child nutrition programs. The Keep Kids Fed Act, passed by Congress and signed into law in 2022, increases flexibility within the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program and provides states new and improved options to ensure children who rely on free and reduced-priced lunches during the school year continue to have access to healthy, nutritious food in the summer months.
This law helps children living in rural areas where families may lack transportation or time to make the daily trip to a feeding site. Thanks to our updates, these communities can offer alternative meal service options such as “grab-and-go” or home-delivered meals that could reach eight million more eligible kids.
Starting this summer, states are able to provide a $120 Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer card to eligible children for grocery purchases. These benefits could help provide meals to more than 29 million kids nationwide over the summer.
This month, Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced Arkansas’s participation in the program.
I am extremely pleased Arkansas is utilizing this promising new tool we added to the toolbox for states to address food insecurity. I appreciate the governor’s leadership to implement the summer EBT program so hunger and malnutrition don’t stand between our children and success.
I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished to update and modernize federal nutrition assistance programs. As the ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I am committed to creating solutions to improve access to food and working with advocates to implement these new reforms so we can end child hunger.